The flowers of smithfields
Aussignac’s distinct flourishes, such as edible flowers – pleasing both to the eye and palate – are an integral part of his cooking style. He’s also instrumental in popularising small plates, serving food in such a manner (before it became a trend) out of sheer practicality. The food of Gascony is rich and hearty – smaller portions prevent overload, and are more convenient for urban diners. “Club Gascon is the first French restaurant to design its menu as tapas, in the world, not only in France,“ says Aussignac, adding: “In a city like London where people are working, you can have two or three plates, you can share, you can do whatever you want – design your own menu format.”
As well as a Michelin star, which has been maintained for over a decade, in 2013 Aussignac was named “Restaurant Chef of the Year” at the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards. His inventive approach to southwestern French cuisine has also won him the top accolade at the Taste of London festival no less than three times, where foie gras and truffle burgers, and Marmite Royale with soldiers, impressed judges with their ingenuity. And in October 2014, Aussignac joined 20 other chefs and industry figures on a 400km cycle challenge across Rajasthan, with the aim of raising £100,000 for Action Against Hunger.
In 2009, Aussignac’s book Cuisinier Gascon: Meals from a Gascon Chef was published. Awarded Best French Cookbook by Gourmand Award, it has an introduction by food legend Pierre Koffman, whose Memories of Gasconytome is regarded as a classic. This is sound praise indeed. A tribute to Aussignac’s homeland, it’s evocative, celebratory and warmly authoritative. “Call it a traveller's companion with recipes,” says Aussignac, “made for everyday people, not chefs.”
Alongside quaffable wines and Armagnac, the bold flavours of foie gras, duck and cassoulet are as much part of Gascony’s culinary psyche as Brie and baguettes are to the Francophile’s food dream. With earthy ingredients, Aussignac’s makes proverbial silk purses out of sows’ ears (his light, crispy pigs' ears are proof of this). The chef harnesses the potent earthiness of southwestern French cuisine with deftness and grace. He’s an artisan as comfortable serving Cassolette of snails and anchovies or Duck Pot-au-feu as he is Primavera tulips or Gladiola petals and spicy violet pearls (violets are emblematic of Toulouse).
Aussignac believes that “the way to make taste is [to have] no more than three flavours… more than three tastes on the plate, you start to be lost.” He applies this policy to arranging flowers, which he does for Club Gascon, finding “the creation of texture, colour and beauty very similar to cooking.” He chooses not to take time off and cooks most days.